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The Damage Caused by Trans ‘Inclusion’ In Female Athletics: a Massachusetts Case Study

A single biologically male high-school student has invaded female categories in at least four different sports—negatively affecting hundreds of girls and women in the process.

· 18 min read
Lazuli Clark competing on KIPP Academy Lynn’s girls’ high-school volleyball team.
Twitter-posted image of Lazuli Clark (#23, right) competing on KIPP Academy Lynn’s girls’ high-school volleyball team.

“A 6’ Tall, Bearded Trans Basketballer Arrogantly Slams a Young Girl to the Ground—She Collapses in Agony,” was how Britain’s Daily Mail headlined the latest transgender sports scandal. Some may roll their eyes at the Mail’s sensationalist (and uniquely verbose) headline style. But in this case, at least, no one can accuse the newspaper’s copy editors of getting the facts wrong.

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The author of that article was one Riley Gaines, a former University of Kentucky swimming star who now helps lead the campaign to protect women’s sport from transgender-identified males. It’s a cause I happen to support. As this Massachusetts high-school basketball controversy attests, male participation in female sports categories isn’t just unfair to girls and women. It’s often dangerous, as well.

One argument that’s commonly invoked in support of male-bodied “inclusion” in female sports categories is that, as Minnesota-based activist group Gender Justice asserts, “trans women are very much underrepresented in sport,” and “professional trans women athletes are extremely rare.” The idea here is that, no matter the obvious advantages that men have over women in athletics, few female athletes will be negatively affected by the handful of trans-identified males who choose to compete in categories that align with their gender identity.

And, to give these activists their due, it is quite true that most elite male athletes, even those afflicted with gender dysphoria, understand that they don’t belong in protected female spaces. It requires either a blinding sense of arrogance, or perhaps social cluelessness, for a man competing as a woman to fail to understand how disdained (and, in some cases, reviled) he will become if he insists on persistently invading female athletics—notwithstanding the forced displays of camaraderie and acceptance that affected women typically feel obligated to put on for the cameras.

So yes, in this narrow arithmetic sense, I will agree with Gender Justice and similarly mandated activist groups that in most sports, the number of biologically male athletes imposing themselves on female spaces is relatively low. One online catalog of “men and boys who have competed in women’s or girls’ sports” names 317 athletes competing in 57 different sports. While Gaines (and I) would argue that’s 317 too many, it’s a small fraction of the total number of the world’s high-level female athletes.

But those numbers don’t tell the whole story—since male athletic advantages are so enormous that just one or two men can destroy the competitive balance in a female league or tournament. At one recent cycling race in Illinois, for instance, men stole both the gold- and silver-medal podium positions from female competitors, turning the whole event into a joke (albeit one that no one is supposed to laugh at).

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And it’s not just a question of who gets to go home with the medals. As demonstrated by the case of the aforementioned “bearded trans basketballer”—Massachusetts high-school senior Lazuli Clark—just a single male athlete who chooses to invade protected female athletic spaces can antagonize, intimidate, or endanger dozens, or even hundreds, of female co-competitors.

Thanks in large part to The Independent Council on Women’s Sport, an American-based advocacy group, almost 9-million people have seen the infamous video clip of Clark injuring a female opponent during a February 8 high-school basketball game. Clark, a student at KIPP Academy in Lynn, MA, also reportedly hurt two other girls during that same game. Following the third injury, the coach of the opposing team, Collegiate Charter of Lowell, MA, chose to forfeit the game rather than risk losing more players.

In light of the (predictably negative) fallout, KIPP Academy then chose to forfeit its own last regular-season game. It also withdrew from its Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association (MIAA) playoff bracket, despite having already qualified for the post-season.

And so, all in all, approximately 30 female basketball players on two separate teams suffered negative consequences because a single male player wanted to present to the world as a female athlete. And that tally doesn’t include the female players on other teams that KIPP competed against during the regular season.

A publicly posted photo of Lazuli Clark (left) competing at a March 2023 Tae Kwon Do competition.

Basketball isn’t Clark’s only sporting pursuit. By my count, Clark has opted into female categories in at least four separate sports. (I am making a deliberate attempt to avoid describing Clark with pronouns, as it isn’t clear which ones apply. While many public news accounts of Clark’s exploits use “she” and “her” descriptors, a Saugus, MA-based Tae Kwon Do studio recently appears to have described Clark, who is apparently a “black belt student,” as “them,” suggesting a non-binary identity.)

These include volleyball, a sport in which the high-school senior was named a Commonwealth Atlantic Conference “all-star.” According to KIPP Academy Lynn statistics, Clark scored more kills during the 2023-24 volleyball season (171) than the rest of the team (131) combined. (A kill is defined as “an attack by a player that is not returnable by the receiving player on the opposing team and leads directly to a point or loss of rally.”) Clark also led the team in aces and blocked shots, and was tied for the team lead in total sets played, at 68. That makes 68 sets during which one of Clark’s female teammates was warming the bench while this biologically male athlete was racking up kills during KIPP’s 22-game schedule.

Overall, Clark’s volleyball team went 13-and-9 during its 2023-24 season. How many of those 13 victories were owed to the inclusion of a male athlete on KIPP’s roster? We don’t know, in large part because MIAA rules require that students generally “shall not be excluded from participation on a gender-specific sports team that is consistent with the student’s bona fide gender identity.” In light of this policy, many female athletes—as well as coaches and parents—are presumably concerned that voicing their frustrations and fears will earn them accusations of bigotry.

On May 30, 2023, Clark competed—as a female—in Lynn, MA’s All-City Track Championship, setting the all-time meet record (for females) in the 400-meter hurdles and shot put. Clark’s average shot-put distance of 41 feet, 2 inches was more than six feet longer than any female participant achieved at the 2023 state championship in the corresponding division. In both track categories, Clark’s female competitors were bumped down in the rankings as a result. That would include the female athletes who deserved to take first place in hurdles and shot put, but who instead had to console themselves with second.

Profile of Clark contained in CRPE’s 2023 State of the American Student report.

It’s unclear whether Clark has turned 18 yet. And while I generally think twice before naming a minor in an article of this type, Clark has already gone public as “a transgender female student,” and has been identified by name in promotional materials associated with “all-star” Massachusetts high-school sports events. On September 13, 2023, Clark, then listed as 17 years old, was profiled by a research organization called the Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE), which referred to Clark as “a rising senior at KIPP Academy Lynn Collegiate in Massachusetts, where she projected to be the valedictorian [sic]. In the future, she hopes to become a professional opera singer.” Like all the above-cited details regarding Clark’s participation in female basketball, volleyball, and track competitions, this CRPE report is publicly available information.

But there’s also a fourth sport that Clark has chosen to take up under a female identity.

Recently, Quillette received a leaked copy of an October 12, 2022 letter sent to the United States Rowing Association (commonly known as USRowing), the sport’s national governing body, in which 15 parents of elite female Massachusetts-resident rowers detailed their concerns about Clark.

In an interview with Quillette, one of the signatories reported that Clark joined the female rowing club in 2021, after placing poorly (“near the bottom,” by this parent’s account) with the club’s corresponding male team. Clark reportedly didn’t bother to shave or otherwise maintain the outward aesthetic pretenses of female gender identification, and even continued to wear the male club’s uniform.

In one documented 2022 incident, it is alleged, Clark walked into the girls’ changing room, spotted a female rower who was topless, and made a lewd comment about her breasts (“Oooh, titties”). As a result, documents reviewed by Quillette indicate, Clark was reported by team officials to the U.S. Center for SafeSport, a congressionally mandated body dedicated to “ending sexual, physical, and emotional abuse on behalf of athletes everywhere.” After SafeSport took action in late 2022, Clark never rowed for the club again—in either gender category. (Efforts to contact Clark or adult members of Clark’s family about these allegations, as well as other events described in this article, were unsuccessful.)

The above-described allegations have become part of the public record thanks to the U.S. Senate’s Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, which is investigating the effects of recent changes to federal law that have served to undermine female athletics. In a March 20, 2024 report sent to committee members, it was noted that

during the course of this investigation, Committee staff discovered a direct case of harassment involving Massachusetts youth in a private, free-standing rowing league whose policies are governed by [USRowing]. In Massachusetts and New England, competitive rowing occurs mainly via private leagues, as it is too expensive for high schools to offer. According to a parent who spoke with Committee staff, a male athlete was allowed to join the women’s varsity crew team, which caused many issues for the female athletes. The male athlete was also allowed to use the women’s locker room in accordance with [USRowing] policy. [As a result, many] female athletes avoided using the locker room, but nonetheless a few months later, the male athlete was caught staring openly at one of the female athletes while she changed her clothes in the women’s locker room, and remarked, [REDACTED]. When a female athlete nearby asked if it was the first time he had seen female breasts, the male responded, “uhh yeah” with a laugh. The male athlete was suspended for this incident.

While expressing gratitude for SafeSport’s response, the parent interviewed by Quillette remains concerned that USRowing, which allows men to opt into most women’s categories as a matter of policy, had ignored the concerns that the signatories had begun expressing about Clark since Spring 2022, months before SafeSport took action.

During Zoom calls organized by USRowing to discuss the issue of male inclusion in female categories, the parent told me, the organization’s leadership platformed activists who urged that everyone “affirm” transgender athletes. To do otherwise, these activists argued, would risk discouraging trans athletes from participating in sports, and thereby negatively affect their mental health.

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 The October 12, 2022 letter to USRowing reads, in part, as follows:

Our daughters have stayed quiet because they are afraid. We tried to speak up for them, and we were shut down. We tried to speak to leadership at all levels. [But] name-calling and the threat of mental health is being used as emotional blackmail to keep us all quiet while women are harmed and devalued…Our daughters also faced a locker room situation where they were uncomfortable…They stopped changing in the locker room and began to hide away. These young girls should never have been put through being told they had to face a male body everyday as they undressed…It was a constant thought, a constant threat to submit and a constant awareness. Yet they dared not say anything (except privately to their parents). The rowing team also required the male athlete to room with them on trips. The girls spoke to us about quitting rowing because of the intimidation of being forced to be in a hotel room alone with a male.

As with Clark’s participation in high-school basketball and volleyball, it’s impossible to know precisely how many female rowers were negatively affected by this one male interloper before SafeSport acted. Given that there were about 40 members of Clark’s rowing team—on top of the female members of other rowing clubs who were forced to compete against this male opponent—the number of affected female rowers was substantial. And this doesn’t include the parents who spent months fruitlessly petitioning USRowing, nor the coaches and staff who had to manage the associated complaints.

How have such travesties been allowed to play out in so many sports? This Massachusetts case study provides a few answers. 

“These girls have all been rowing for years, and for many, the main goal is to get recruited to top universities with rowing teams,” the letter signatory told me. “As soon as you express concerns about men rowing as women, you risk getting called out as a ‘transphobe.’ No one wants to risk that. These are girls who’ve been training for three hours a day, six days a week, 50 weeks a year. So when you’re told that the team is going out of town, and someone needs to share a hotel room with a [male] rower, they just look around, and it’s basically like, ‘okay, who wants to take one for the team.’”

(The parent emphasized that the club’s coaching staff were simply following rules set down by USRowing and the state of Massachusetts, and were mindful of how difficult the situation was for the female rowers—an impression that’s well-supported by the internal documents reviewed by Quillette.)

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This isn’t the first time I’ve had a parent of a female athlete explain to me how this political dynamic works. Earlier this year, the international media reported on the shocking case of one “Melody Wiseheart”—also known as Nicholas Cepeda—a 50-year-old male psychology professor at Canada’s York University who identifies as female and enters swimming competitions against teenage girls as young as 13 years old. When I spoke with a mother of an affected female swimmer, she told me that none of the parents wanted to be known as political “troublemakers,” lest it negatively affect their daughters’ chances of progressing within the sport. As a result, many simply looked on helplessly as a middle-aged man shared a locker room and pool deck with terrified female children one quarter his age.

A second reason such farces are tolerated is that male athletes who invade female athletic spaces have become experts at reciting the same activist talking points that USRowing and other sports organizations have used to gaslight concerned parents. A common rhetorical strategy here is to suggest that any expression of concern for the integrity of female sports categories (or the emotional well-being of girls) serves to channel a form of conservative political extremism, which in turn nullifies the very “existence” of trans-identified individuals.

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A 2023 media profile of Clark, for instance, has the high school senior lamenting (in the words of a The74 reporter) “how difficult it can be to focus on school when some policymakers are passing laws against her identity.” According to Clark,

going to school is the least of people’s concerns at this point for a lot of people. There are days where I’m like, ‘Oh yeah, I have to worry about my [Advanced Placement] U.S. history project, and yesterday another state basically made it so that I can never exist in that state.’ And it’s like, how’s anyone supposed to think about anything at all when there’s all of that going on?

Another common factor one observes is the ideological capture of sports oversight bodies by small groups of activist administrators. In my 2022 Quillette reporting on biological males seeking to compete in disc golf, for instance, I found that one of the directors on the sport’s international oversight body is a 6’4”-tall trans-identified male named Laura Nagtegaal—someone who has not only advocated for male inclusion in women’s categories, but has even won PDGA Masters events that were (at least nominally) reserved for female athletes.

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When it comes to USRowing, several of the concerned parents and activists I’ve interviewed mentioned endocrinologist Kathryn Ackerman, a former elite rower who now serves as chair of USRowing’s medical committee. These critics also have pointedly noted Dr. Ackerman’s role as medical director of the Female Athlete Program in the Division of Sports Medicine at Boston Children’s Hospital (BCH). In recent years, BCH became infamous for performing mastectomies on teens as young as 15, and for offering vaginoplasties to teens as young as 17.

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Moreover, at least one of Dr. Ackerman’s co-authored academic papers—titled, Improving inclusion and well-being of trans and gender nonconforming collegiate student-athletes—can be taken to suggest that she is sympathetic to the demands of trans-identified athletes. In that paper, Dr. Ackerman and her co-authors repeatedly urged National Collegiate Athletic Association officials to challenge “myths” associated with “trans and gender nonconforming” individuals. The nature of those “myths” is never spelled out, but that word often is used as political code to suggest that male athletic advantages over women are imaginary.  

And yet, as I learned during my research, Dr. Ackerman’s views on the subject of male-female sex differences are highly informed. In a recent online lecture entitled The Care of Transgender Athletes, for instance, she systematically stepped fellow doctors through the many decisive advantages that male athletes possess over their female counterparts. Yes, her lecture began with dubious slogans to the effect that biological sex is a mere “construct” that doctors “assign” based on “various anatomical and physiological traits” (as well as inflated statistics on the prevalence of differences of sexual development). But she then quickly got into the real science:

Women…have about 30 percent lower max cardiac output. So that means they would typically have less capacity to move blood and have a decreased work capacity. They have about 25 to 50 percent lower VO2 max—so less work capacity. They have lower blood volume, so less oxygen-carrying capacity. And about 45 percent less lean body mass. So that would suggest that women are 40 to 60 percent weaker in their upper-body strength, and 25 percent weaker in their lower-body strength.

Dr. Ackerman’s presentation was highly detailed; and I won’t summarize all of it. But suffice it to say that she is, as her glittering résumé attests, a true expert in the field of sports medicine, especially as it relates to girls and women. She is also a former member of the U.S. Women’s national rowing team. If there is anyone in the entire country better situated to understand the enormous gulf that separates male and female rowing capabilities (with the possible exception of Quillette contributor and former U.S. Olympic rower Mary O’Connor), I’m not sure who it would be.

Ergometer performance times (2,000 meters) for men and women competing in the Junior World Indoor Rowing Championships, as reported in the 2018 PLoS One paper, Girls in the Boat: Sex Differences in Rowing Performance and Participation.

“As [a journalist] who’s become familiar with the science in this area, I was struck by your deep knowledge, and your frank appreciation of the very real differences between men and women when it comes to sports performance,” I wrote in a March 21 email to Dr. Ackerman. “So I am at a loss to explain to readers how an organization with you at the helm of its medical committee can maintain a policy that, with few exceptions, allows men to row as women. If there’s any light you can shed on this question, either on or off the record, I’d be much obliged.”

If and when Dr. Ackerman responds, I’ll update this article to let readers know.

As female athletes and their parents find their political voice, the tide is beginning to turn on this issue—even in progressive parts of the United States, such as New York City. And spectacles such as that of “a 6’ Tall, Bearded Trans Basketballer” throwing girls around like rag-dolls will only accelerate the process.

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Once the ideological movement to undermine the reality of sexual dimorphism has run its course, and it’s (once again) become settled policy across the sporting world that turning “he” into “she” should not be a magic ticket into female leagues (or locker rooms), the question will become: How did we allow this to happen?

For my own part, I’m not particularly interested in laying blame on the likes of Clark—young, confused, gender dysphoric males whose actions are being encouraged by others. What’s more interesting is why people who should know better—adult politicians, educators, administrators, scientists, and doctors such as Dr. Ackerman—have lent their names and reputations to this movement. One hopes that, at least in their private thoughts, they’ve begun to understand the disastrous effect of policies that prioritize the sanctity of male delusions over female safety.

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